Over the past year, I've read article after article and comment after comment on Patch regarding the retail landscape in Altadena. It's a numbing reminder that 99 percent of us believe that retail should and could be better and/or different than it now is. We've all read or commented that there are too many of "this" type of business and not enough of "that" kind of business.
I had never heard of Altadena before moving here 9 years ago. I had lived mostly behind the Orange Curtain. I quickly learned that things are "different" up here. I learned what it meant to live in an unincorporated town; you had to fight (maybe push hard is a better phrase) for what you wanted. While an important customer, Altadena isn't always at the top of the priority list when it comes to county services. Let's face it, when you're a city, your residents & businesses are the #1 priority. When you're one of 140+ unincorporated areas, (see http://ceo.lacounty.gov/forms/Unincorp%20Alpha%20Web.pdf for the list) you have a lot of company clamoring for attention.
A couple of years ago, I became a Director on the Altadena Chamber of Commerce. At the time, I thought it would be a good networking group. And it was. I met new people via meetings and mixers. But, I felt something was missing. I realized there was a problem with the retail climate in town. Shops were closing, more non-retail locations were coming into town. It became a perfect storm to send residents out of town to spend their dollars. I began to think that being a Director on the Chamber should mean more than networking; it should mean working to improve the business climate in town. I wanted to help be part of a solution and not someone who just has ideas but doesn't act on them.
It was also about this time I began to wonder who in town was going to start doing something. We don't have a city manager, mayor, permit office etc. to help us. Heck, our economic enterprise zone program had run out before many in town even knew we had one! I started reading Patch articles about how Altadena doesn't have enough retail, the wrong mix of retail, run down looking businesses, grocery stores with poorly planning parking lots, a grocery store with no service/meat/deli department and so on. We all read that "we" should have this & that and "they" should do more for us.
What I don't often read about is anyone currently doing anything to change the retail climate. I have read about how "this & that" didn't work in the past. I've read countless times about how we need/want a Trader Joe's (as if wishing for one will make it magically appear), another coffee house, more restaurants and more parking. WHO is doing anything to make this happen? Once in a while, a reader comments that they've made a call to county (usually involving a permit related issue) but mostly, we seem to drift rudderless without any clear direction, plan or idea how to make something positive happen. I know many in the past have taken active roles (thank you!) but now I see a lot of "shoulda, coulda, woulda".
It's time again for Altadena citizens and businesses to be the spark plug that makes "it" happen. Make a phone call to the headquarters of a store you want to see it in town. You don't like the way Rite Aid looks? Call their headquarters, call the property management company. Share with us what they say. Start a letter writing campaign. Find people to invest in a restaurant. Find a niche retail need and fill it. We need to stop looking for others to fix things and look to ourselves for solutions. Become (more) involved.
So, am I walking the talk? I'm trying....I got off my rear a few months back and called Trader Joe's headquarters and spoke with their real estate/site location department. I asked if TJ's would consider Altadena. I was told that they require a site of 1.5 acres on which to build or a certain size existing pad (the site next to Rite Aid is too small). We discussed the return on investment since TJ's has 3 locations in Pasadena and one in La Canada. Would a TJ's in Altadena be successful? To us, likely. To TJ's, maybe not since shoppers may merely be switching from the other 4 nearby locations. I emailed Fresh N Easy. Haven't heard back. I've spoken with our local Ralph's store director and invited her to a future chamber meeting. I think it makes sense for them to re-invest in our community. They know they're not getting as many of our dollars as they'd like until they expand.
The Altadena Chamber of Commerce is trying to make things happen. We've traditionally been a small group, but even as such, we're getting things done around town! Our purpose is to help small businesses and increase commerce in Altadena. Last year the Chamber was instrumental in securing the permit for and sponsoring Webster's Fancy Food Truck Friday events; we started the Shop Altadena Coupon page to promote local businesses and launched a new, user-friendly website.
We helped put together a very important shopping survey and recently named our first ever Altadena Business Of the Year.
One of our most successful recent efforts to help local businesses was to spearhead a presentation with LA County Public Works and Metro Transportation Authority to relocate the bus layover behind El Patron (north side of Fontanet Way). The bus layover was moved, the curb is now re-painted and retail businesses in that general area now enjoy 5-6 more parking spaces!
We're attending local economic trade shows and learning what other groups are doing to help local businesses survive & thrive. The Chamber has recently voted to open our meetings to the general public. We meet at noon, first Tuesday of each month at the Community Center (sorry for the late notice for this months' meeting).
We invite you to come, listen to us and we'll listen to you. Bring your ideas, concerns and enthusiasm to the meeting and help better our business climate. Maybe you'll get pumped up enough to join the Chamber and/or volunteer to help out on some of our committees.
Remember, if you don't stand up for Altadena, who will?